In the '80s I saw hundreds of unreleased (and unreleasable) movies at Film Markets (AFM, Cannes, etc.) and after-hours Thalia screenings in NYC courtesy of the late Richard Schwarz. WHITE RAT is typical of these misfires - clearly unfinished and haphazardly assembled for VHS dumping and now a pointless DVD revival courtesy of Code Red. The distributor included another unfinished film in the two-fer and even apologizes (they should) on the back liner notes for the poor quality, based on using video transfer rather than original film elements (lost?, thrown away for good reason?).
My interest in WHITE RAT stems from co-star Alisha Fontaine, my favorite '70s starlet back when I saw her in wonderful drive-in movies like FRANCY'S Friday and FRENCH QUARTER. Her acting here seems committed and worthwhile but is shredded by the filmmakers/editors.
Film begins poorly with entire back story and exposition presented in rapid-fire voice-over narration as we stare at shots of the cast members. If this were a work print rather than a film signed off upon and sold to the public, it would have to contain many, many "Scene Omitted" cards.
Story has Hal Sherman as hard-boiled ex-cop turned private eye Mike Capon (a role that could have flown had they hired Tony Lo Bianco instead, then big in FRENCH CONNECTION) hired by gangster Alex to protect his girl friend Alice Leasen (played by Alisha Fontaine).
After being introduced to wife Cindy (sympathetic, but hen-pecking him), we see our hero with Alisha in a single-take tons of dialog shot walking her home down the NYC street. She's immediately killed (stabbed off-camera) and the movie died for me within 5 minutes of kick-off.
Making matters worse for an Alisha fan, five or six portions of a heart-felt monologue she gives talking about herself, set in a nightclub where she was a singer, is doled out randomly (real randomly -you have to see it) during the rest of the film as if scraps from the cutting room floor. This is as pointless as the entire movie.
Though our hero's performance is poor, his antagonist Alex played by Joe Petrullo is a fine acting turn, reminding me a lot of Kevin Spacey a decade or so later. He's a thinking man's villain in a terrible movie.
Film is so cheap looking (with seriously under-dressed sets) they must have had little money to start with, and run out of it quickly. Many scenes are presented simply in a continuous master shot, with no reverse shot coverage, just a single long take sufficing. Late in the film Cindy walks into the room to harangue her husband, and her entire first speech is repeated verbatim in a second take when they cut to a closer angle, unbelievably sloppy, who cares? editing.
Similarly a scene where our hero grills Paula, a fellow singer at the club, takes place in a car in the rain and is presented in chunks completely out of sequence, making it play like an irrelevant flash-forward. I could only discover this by playing the DVD back a couple of times, a luxury a theatrical audience would be unable to indulge in had this junker been releasable theatrically 40 odd years ago.
Narrative of hero trying to find out who killed Alisha, with himself as a prime suspect, is boring and poorly told. There are a few OK dialog scenes indicating the cast can act within the framework of '30s & '40s fast-talking, spit it out verbal delivery, but none of it fits together or amounts to anything more than a fragment of a motion picture that only wished it could become a neo noir. A foot chase and some other minor action footage go nowhere.
The loss rate of motion picture production has always been high, only increasing in the modern indie era when half-baked and ill-funded projects go forward with no promise of an ultimate taker. WHITE RAT is certainly not among the worst, just typical of scatterbrained filmmaking.
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